A Travellerspoint blog

The Mighty Amazon

Madra de Dios

semi-overcast 33 °C
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Bugs, birds, monkies, spiders, mammals and plants galore...everything you expect in a jungle and more...

We arrived at the Pueto Maldanado airport an hour late as the airport was closed due to bad weather, 30C and raining. We flew in worse weather landing in Wellington. After a quick bus ride to the Madra de Dios river (a subsiduary of the Amazon). We hop on a river boat and head down stream about 25 mins to our lodge. The river is 600m wide and brown from all the rain. It seamed to be flowing fast, but in our time here we would observe it rise another 2 meters and increase in current speed twice fold.
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When we arrived at the lodge we were quietly exited about the few days to follow. The lodge is what you expect, huts raised off the ground in case the river rises and to give the guests some distance from the creepy crawlies on the ground. The windows are just mesh screens and beds equipped with mosquito nets. The lodge makes an effort to be eco friendly using the river water for bathroom use. Within an hour of our arrival we saw a pack of Howler monkeys swinging in the trees behind our hut, got acquainted with some local birds including a tiny humming bird, and numerous interesting insects.

That afternoon, we took a quick trip down stream to Monkey Island! There are only 14 monkeys on the Island as the larger monkeys (howler, spider) do not like living in confined spaces (less than 10 acres). We walked down a jungle track with our guide Diego calling the alpha male, Chico, chico. Eventually we meet the 12 Capachino monkeys and 2 Squirrel monkeys. They threw bark off the trees at us and then began to follow us back to a designated feeding area. They scuttled down large vines, checked around for condors and other possible predators, then grabbed the slices of apple left for them. Some were greedy, taking 3-4 pieces and then struggling to climb back, or eating on the run.

Here the jungle was full of bright flowers, similar to the birds of Paradise and the many big butterflies kept trailing us on the path, including the electric blue flapper, BEAUTY! With the sun fading, we hopped back on the boat for some White Camin hunting (a small river Crocodile). Spotting them in the dark wasnt too hard, as their eyes glow red when you shine a torch light at them. Once we spotted one amongst the reeds, the boat glided closer to get a better look. In a flash Diego lurches out of the boat and comes up with a small Camin (1m long!) It was a true crocodile hunter moment. Tim got to hold the crock.

Day two - after a haunted sleep of jungle sounds. It wasn't comforting to being woken at 5am by howler monkeys, who sound like demonic gools. We had breakfast and were introduced to three Macaw parrots which like to greet visitors with an occasional "Hola", show off and beg for scraps of food.

Back on the boat we headed 1hr down stream to a 500 hectare nature reserve and animal rescue center. Here our guide showed us a site where the reserve tests out various new crops which could be cultivated in the area, like coffee, pineapple shrubs, cocao and strange plastic looking flowers. On the way through the jungle we saw a tarantula, and various different lizards.
DSC04243.jpg We then climbed a 45m high and 90m in length canopy walk to the top of a large tree. At the top we were able to observe more bird life, even spotted a bird of five colors.
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In the reserve we observed monkeys that had been pets, Tapairs, weird rodent creatures and a Jaguar, that had lost its mate. We were comforted to know that the reserve is working to reintroduced these animals back to the jungle.
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And no tourist trip is complete without the encounter,( or staged encounter) with the "native Indians", where we were lectured by a 64 year old man. Wearing a wood fiber mumu, he tried to convince us that he and the remaining people of his tribe never wear western clothes or shoes, and never eat salt or sugar. Because if they did they would get sick. We finished off the day with Monkey meet for dinner...

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Day Three, the on/off rain didn´t deter us from traveling to a lake Sandoval nature reserve, famous for its varied wildlife inhabitants. The lake was once part of the river, as a shoehorn, then a build up of sediment created the lake which inhabits one of the last colony of giant otter. The lake is 7kms long so our chances of seeing them were not great. But as luck would have it, as soon as we got out of the jungle flood waters onto the lake, the otters were swimming towards us. DSC04319.jpg

We also saw a host of birds including, Heron, Stinky Birds, Giant Annie and Shags. Monkeys of several variety's clambered on the trees. On the way back it poured down and we were required to man the ores, we made it back in record time.

Once back at the lodge we went for a walk in the jungle behind the lodge, which is a 10 hec block. Diego explained how different plants were used as medicines, and even coached a tranchula out of its hole so we could all have a good look.
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Day Four, up at 4.30am to travel upstream to a parrot clay lick. Every morning the parrots gather to lick the clay, it provides them with sodium and also lines there stomach so they do not get poisoned by certain seeds. Diego also spotted two sloths in a tree. With their backs turned to us clutching the tree, it resembled a termite pod, just a brown blob in the tree. As we circled around in our boat fighting a current, we startled them and their pair slowly unfolded. The long arms stretched out, it found some leaves to nibble as he shifted in search of a cushier canopy spot. After seeing the sloths, we could be content with our first jungle experience. DSC04324.jpg

Out time at the Tambopata Lodge was complete, but our flight back to Cusco weren't leaving untill the following day. So our guide Diego, dropped us off back in the jungle town of Puerto Maldonado. The small town is loud and dusty, the result of the constant motorbike traffic. Entire families are loaded onto 50cc scooters:Dad, mum, 10 year old in the middle and a baby under each arm. So we did as the locals did, we hired a motorbike for the afternoon.
In the end the shit hostel and the noise of traffic convinced us to leave. But the spirit of the jungle will draw us back for further exploration.

Posted by Tatyanazzz 13:35 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

The Journey to Machu Picchu

Cusco and the Sacred valley

22 °C
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After a somewhat stressful journey on a bus we finally arrived to the heart of the Inca civilazation, Cusco. With a recommended hostel in mind we were wisked off to the old part of the city. Our first impression was of the old coblestone roads, the width of a single car leaving only a 20cm gap for a pedestrian to cling to the the witewashed walls of the collonial buildings.
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We spend a day crawling around the city discovering the amazing syndication of two archictechural styles, the great Inca stones and the Spanish tradition of plazas, courtyards and intricate little balconies. The Conquistadors desecrated the Inca sites by using the stone temples and fortresses as a quary to build their own cathedrals and homes. Most building in the old neighbourhoods retain the original Inka stone foundation, washed clean for display, these foundations hold up the various collonial establishments. Walking these streets brings the rich history of this place to life. On every block there is a grand chathedral dating back to 17th century but unfortunatly we weren´t able to enter most of them as they were either closed or have exuberant entry fees.
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The only negative aspect about Cusco is that it heavily relies on tourists. It is low season at the moment, and everyone in hospitality is despirate to attract cliental. Even the street vendors are a constand barrage of harassement, buy this or that, try it on. This gets very hard, to the point where you dont want to approach their stalls but have to find different paths to avoid the harrassment. The prices for tourist attractions keep rising, the tourist is exploited here and made to turn there pocket inside out, entry to Machu Picchu is $US40.
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But this this is Perus archiological capital, full of history and vibrant culture, all preserved and sold to the eager tourists. Inka teraces, fortresses and temples. We got hooked and took a tour of the Sacred valley, a journey that took us through the countryside and to three Inka heritage sites: Pisac, Ollytaytambo and Chinchero. The fist two villages are a great exmple of Inka citadells. We learned a bit about the Inca culture and got to appreciate their achitechture, and feel the a bit of sympothy for the distruction that comes with colonisation. The Sacred Valley is well fiting name for the surrounding countryside, which ranges from lush agricultural valleys to high andean mountains still glistening with snow. Its a beauty!!!DSC04059.jpg

For the lack of time and organisation we weren,t able to get on a Inca trail. Although we had done our share of tramping around Machu Picchu nonetheless. For us it was also a challange to keep our expandidure below $US150 each, which is what most tour companies offer for a 2day excurtion to the tourist mecca. To get to the mounain we first caught a train to a small town at the foot of the mountain. Agua Caliente (Hot Water) is transient township for tourists with numerous hospitality outlets. After a good soak in the themal pools, which were some what dissapointing compared to what we are used to in NZ, we prepared for an early rise the following morning.
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Awoken by neighbouring roosters and dogs, at 5am we were off to enter the postcard landscape of Machu Picchu. We arrived at the gates of the park early about 6.30 when the soft light of the sunrise was starting to illuminate the site. As we climed the initial terraces we were greeted by a couple of stern llamas doing their bit a keeping the place nice and tidy. Although it may not have been the same feeling of ellation as one would get after three days treck, we were certanly thrilled to finally be here. We were also pleased to share the site with only a handfull of other early birds. We spent our time walking around, admiring and observing some of the native fauna: vascuchas, lizards and numerous birds and butterflies.
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Before 8am we started our treck up an adjasant mountain peek Wayna Picchu. This walk is a test of everyones endurance at altitude, its a steep climb up 200 meters of Inca steps. These steps are of various sizes both width and hight, at times next to a slipery cliff drops. Huffing and puffing we made to the top with in 45 min, to enjoy the spectacular view of Machu Picchu and the surrounding country side. Sitting on top of the rocks, we felt on top of the world, closer to the sky and to the Inca dieties.
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Posted by Tatyanazzz 14:36 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Lake Titikaka (Great Puma)

Bolivia and Peru crossing


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La paz in a few words: big, dirty and chaotic. It not a city I would call beautiful, as there are no trees at this high altitude. The city is old, its streets are one way with 20 centermeters either side for a footpath, and are filled with smelly, loud and pushy cars. The traffic is unpredictable, its truly nerve racking beeing a pedestrian where at times to get across the road one must dive in front of traffic. Every street corner and main streets are inhabited by street vendors selling everything from snacks, jewlery to electronic supplies. The witches market was also a sight selling all sorts of potions, herbs and animal skins and dried carcases of baby llamas. The best thing about Bolivia, the food is cheep and good, we were paying about $10 NZ or 40 Bolivianos for restaurant dinners most nights. Its where I got a taste for llama steak, Yummy, a steak with earthy overtones.

We found ourselves staying at an Irish hostel ´Wild Rover", surrounded by fairies, pixies and lapricorns. The atmosphere is homely, inside the staff and guests speak English making you feel as far away from Bolivia as possible. We also arrived to celebrate the hostels first birthday, where in the Irish tradition fancy dress was compolsiry and the drinking was plentiful.
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By day 4 in La Paz we had enough of the chaos, time to move on to explore the shores of lake Titikaka, destination Copacobana. One of the features of this trip was crossing a small channel between the mainland and a pininsular, where all the passangers leave the bus and board a rickaty boat. Meanwhile the bus is transported on a barge across the channel. This was quite a sight many large buses and cars swaying on wooden barges. The lake is located at 3800m altitude and surrounded by magnificent snowcapped mountains. We were pleased to see a lushous landscape, a contrast to the preseding weeks in the desert.
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Copacobana is a great little township with another magnificent church as its centrepiece. From here we organised a trip to the Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun), an important island on the lake where the Inka civilazation originated. The trip to the island is 2hours by boat and slow due to the putty small outbord motors of 55 horse power for a relatively big boat hosting up to 30 passangers. Once on the island we took the three hour walking tour from the north to the south of the island witnessing various Inka ruins. The North of the Island is barron and dirty on contrast to the South where a fresh spring gushes water all year round. The grass is green and trees cover the terraces. There are numerous hostals and homestays on offer, some people choose to stay the night, but we had to get moving.
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Our next destination was Puno on the Peruvian side of the lake. A plain city, but offers trips to the Floating Islands. The group of 50 Islands are made from reads and are anchoured down to stop them floating away. The boat glides through the community, where each island supports 4 to 6 famalies. The sight of this floating town is mesmarising making you feel like you stepped into a fairy tale. Our tour stopped on a small Island were we meet the 6-8 inhabitants. We got a tutorial on how the islands are made and how the houses on them are constructed. Their reed houses last up to 2 years, where by then they start to rot. We were also treated to tasting the fresh reads which are also part of the peoples diet, we were told it provides them with calcium, to us it tasted like bland cucumber. The inhabitants survive by fishing for trout and hunding birds, then trading their catch for vegetables and grains in town.
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After a bit of an introduction to their lifestyle, we got some free time to look around their houses and purchase some of their handmade creations. Tatyana got pulled away by one of the locals and dressed in traditional clothing. It was hard for most passangers to resist the temptation of sourveners as you see the woman hand stiching the wallhanging which tell the story of the lake Titikaka. We also were treeted to taking a cruise on one of the reed boats around the community, it was a smooth ride guided by one of the young locals. Although it was an interesting experience it did make us question whether the continuation of such lifestyle was just another touristic attraction.

Posted by Tatyanazzz 10:51 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

The Worlds Most Dangerous Road

Mountain Biking in Bolivia

semi-overcast 15 °C
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360 people died in one year on the worlds most dangerous road, 65 so far this year. There are some truly horrifying stories about this road. After some thorough contemplation of the safety records, the equipment used, the guided support provided for the mountain bike ride, we decided to go with Gravity, a company originated from another Kiwi bloke with a passion for extreme sports. After 44 000 gringos on the ride, only one fatality but we were told there are regular hospital visits. But don´t worry we survived with only a few bruises and a memory to last a life time.
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The trip begins at 4700m, with a steep tarsealed road about 10k long, you have a chance to get used to the bikes and their fancy but very powerful disk brakes. Most people reach above 50km/hr in this stretch. Not being a regular bike rider Tanya was pressured to keep up to the rest of the group,she was a little scared of picking up the speed. You also go through a narcotics check(all clear) and then the Worlds most dangerous road begins.
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Our group was made up of 5 blokes and 6 girls, plus two experienced guides, Mat a Scots man and Gus a world downhill champion. Plus a support vehicle following behind with a local driver. If people are feeling extra nervous, anxious, unwell or are overly cocky on the road they get put on the bus for time out. We proud to say that no one in our group got to ride the bus for time out. The trip is divided up into 17 sections with a stop at each so that everyone can re-group. The total distance is 63km and takes about 5 hours.

Gravel, steep, windy and with a straight drop of anywhere from 50m to 400m down. It really is scary and truly dangerous, its not just a ploy. But luckily the altitude provided the cloud and mist cover to conceal the sheer drops from the crazy gringo cyclists. Catching a glimpse of the cliff drop sends shivers down your spine, but its a test of concentration on the road ahead. Plus the guides warn you about other possible distractions like butterflies and birds fling out in front. In some places we had to go through waterfalls, refreshing but add another edge to the whole ride.
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The scenery is spectacular but we had no time to appreciate it, and taking our camera on the ride would have guaranteed its ruin. But the guides takes photos along the way and even a few short film clips of the hairiest parts (posted here soon) A NZ road comparison would be somewhere like the old Authors pass before the new bridge road.

Well I wish I could say that the day had no crashes but that would be a lie. An Aussie girl slid and came close to the edge, making her slow down for the rest of the day. Also a receptionist from the company, who has done the ride before, had a spectacular slide out grassing her chin and scraping her legs. Howerever, the guides favorite crash was Tatyana. Towards the end of the road there are two river crossings both have to be taken at speed, one was a shallow creek. The second was a knee deep, here the guide demonstrated his best speed pick up into a turn with a superman finish through the water. One by one we crossed, as the rest of the group watched. With more confidence Tanya peddled into good speed but was going to fast. This resulted in her flying round the corner, hitting the water and carrering straight into the bus parked to stop people taking the shallow path. There was no major injuries but a few bruises and a drenching. She laughed it off and was content to have the softest crash landing on the Words Most Dangerous Road.
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The ride seems to disappear from memory as the sense of achievement of getting down in one piece sets in. The ride ends and we all proceeded for a shower and lunch in a private animal rescue park, surrounded by monkeys macaws, dogs and a boa constricter.

Posted by Tatyanazzz 18:24 Archived in Bolivia Comments (1)

Landscape on the Moon

the Bolivian Altiplano

sunny 22 °C
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Although 3 days 4WD driving through the Bolivian desert may not appeal to all, it was an exhilarating experience. We thoroughly enjoyed the magnificent scenery,wildlife and a 4WD tour like no other.

After making a naive choice of tour companies we were pleasantly surprised. Arriving at their door step at 8am to find out that three other passengers on our booked tour have had to cancel for various reasons. Usually the tour is for minimum of 4 people and max 6, but all other scheduled passengers canceled without asking for a refund so we were in for a private tour. Yep just the two of us and a local Bolivian guide in Toyota Land cruiser.
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The border between Chile and Bolivia is separated by a vast mountain range, so our three day trip included most of the environmental phenomenons located on the Bolivian Altiplano. After completing the formalities of immigration into Bolivia in a small shack between two volcanoes, we began our tour. Our tour guide Noel spoke little English but this was no barrier, as my Spanish comprehension keeps improving and it was a chance to really stretch my speaking skills. Our first stop was at the Laguna Blanca (white). The lagoon presented us with the first opportunity to observe the three varieties of flamingo native to Latin America. Beautiful birds who live in some of the most desilate landscapes. In contrast to the abundant life in the white Laguna, across the way there was Laguna Verde (green), its dramatic color is due to the high copper, arsenic and other mineral sediment on the floor of the lake. These two Laguna are set amongst the adjacent volcanoes in the southwest point of Bolivian national park at 4300 meters altitude. This landscape is absolutely foreign and surreal.
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After a short drive we stopping off to enjoy a thermal pool which overlooks another big lagoon. Along the way we witnessed a few small tornadoes, which stir up the loose salt and clay sediments to form the funnel. A site we could t capture in photo it appears almost transparent. This tour of the national park is very popular with all the tourists so there were plenty of other 4WD making the journey, but most were packed to the brim with 6 passengers while we enjoyed the comforts of the entire back seat.

Real altitude sickness set in when we were approaching the highest point in our journey of 4900 meters, another small stop of view some geysers. Our head was feeling the pressure, its a strange feeling, having to of consciously take deeper breaths more frequently to relieve the anxiety. Tim had tingling sensations in his fingers and toes from the reduction of oxygen in the blood. What we felt before was nothing to the discomfort of feeling weak and a bit nauseous at this hight. Where even the physical movement of a taking a short walk or jumping up into the cabin of the truck leaves you a bit breathless and exhausted. Gladly we had some medication with us, which started to help as we began to descend.
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The most spectacular site was Laguna Colorada, a lagoon that has a high algae count so it changes color according to the amount of light available. We arrived to witness it transcending between purple, orange and deep red, depending on the angle of the view. White salt sediments are also visible on the lagoona, creating a delicious effect of alternating swirls of red and white, like a giant pool of strawberries and cream.

At 2pm we arrived in our accommodation, with the view of the lake, the flamingos and llamas. The accommodation is very simple, dorm rooms for 6 with no running water. Here the temperature dropped to 3 degrees, forcing us to layer up and dig out the sleeping bags. The Bolivia hospitality offered us some Coca tea to releave the symptoms of altitude sickness, it tastes like a green tea and really does helps to reduce the headache. The next morning we woke up without any symptoms.

Day 2 had fewer highlights as the main agenda was to cover the distance of the national park and finish the day on the edge of Salar de Uyuni. : after an early rise we took off in our truck to cover the length of the various desert landscapes. Dali desert was the painted surreal landscape seen in dreams. We tried to climb the rocks but even small psychical exercise was still a challenge.
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On this day our guide Nole showed us the serious nature of four wheel driving in Bolivia. There are no roads here only tracks left by other vehicles, but most of the time he chose to make his own way. Same of the more hairy moments was when we climbed a steep rocky hill, just to catch a glimpse of a native possum rabbit cross. We also had to drive through a narrow ravine with giant boulders only centimeters away from the truck. But the true test of skill was descending a serpentine rocky track, where some trucks were stopping to let the passengers out to walk it. But we celebrated the relief of getting down without injuring the truck, and seeing a more pleasant dessert road ahead.
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That night Tim and I got to stay in a Salt Hotel as the only guests. It got a bit lonely as we watched other 4WD pass our window to other places. The hotel is made up of giant salt blocks carved out of the Salar it overlooked. All the furniture was also created out of the salt blocks, the chairs tables and even our bed was a mattress on top of salt blocks. Although this was not the original salt hotel, which is located in the middle of the salar, we still enjoyed the novelty of being able to lick the walls.

Day 3 we headed out onto the salar de Uyuni, the largest and highest salar in the world. We drove for 50 min north towards a small island in the middle. As you can see it provides a great view of the mountain, the white landscape of the salar and is densely populated by very old cacti. Some as old as 1200 years! DSC03813.jpg DSC03815.jpgDSC03842.jpg
After the 4WD tour we got dropped off in a small desert town of Uyuni, which we needed to leave as soon as possible. We bought tickets for the train and successfully killed 12 hours waiting for our departure. The night train was slow but got us to our destination Oruro promptly, arriving at 7.30am and jumping on the bus to La Paz. The capital city is a indescribable site, red brick houses clinch to the walls of the mountains enclosing the city like a giant arena, with a not so distant snow capped mountain towering over its people.

Posted by Tatyanazzz 14:44 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

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